Pete Seeger is an American legend, a troubadour who at 91 can still raise his voice to shine light on what he believes is wrong. His most recent target is BP for its culpability in the gulf oil spill off Louisiana, and his recording of “God’s Counting on Me, God’s Counting on You” was recently recorded in New York. In his aging voice there remains unmistakable power, and through his lips the lyrics written by his friend Lorre Wyatt echo with a tremendous resonance.

In the contemporary media world where opinion delivered with bravado and volume seems more valued than thoughtful wisdom, where pundits seems to predominate over those who have first-hand knowledge and acumen, it is instructive, indeed empowering to witness a sole voice of articulate rebellion and considered dissent. It is illustrative that a single voice – at whatever age – can still be a clarion.

There are others who take stages across America to poke fun or satire at contemporary events. I’d venture to suggest they rarely get the attention they deserve. Mr. Seeger is testimonial evidence of a life lived well in pursuit of his passion, in honor of his beliefs, and his desire to persuade others to think and share his commitment.

It just made me pause for a moment to compare his voice to the noise of so many others who appear to measure their success by achieving sixteen minutes of fame, as compared to a man who has earned a lifetime of applause for a body of work achieved singing one song at a time.

August is not usually known as a great month for news. The President is often on a vacation while Congress has abandoned Washington to return to their districts. Political campaigns are traditionally in hibernation raising money. Families are on holiday and companies generally wait to unveil new products until after Labor Day.

What little news that does occur runs the risk of being beaten to death, rehashed and regurgitated until all that remains is a little drool, spittle that eeks from the lips of pundits and prognosticators, and a second tier of opinion-makers who are not-so-important that they could take vacation lest they might miss their only chance of the year to be quoted.

August news stories have the same foul odor of rotting food left out in the hot sun… stories that stretch on for weeks… when senior executives abandon NYC for the Hampton’s or the Cape leaving more junior news people in charge who embrace, indeed flog same ol’ stories for days and days.  It is so much safer to go with a 2nd, 3rd or 15th day lead than chart a new course or find something more compelling when what’s old and loud can be resuscitated for another lead.

Last August coverage focused on the proposed death panels associated with health care reform.  Stop – if just for a moment – is it really credible that the United States government would propose death panels for its citizens as a matter of public policy?  Does that Mengele-esque concept pass the credulity test?

This August we have the Manhattan mosque.  In a year’s time, with reflection, will this be about a proposed building or rather the question was this suggested mosque about actually building it, or merely asking for permission?  Was the media, in turn much of the public, played by the question – what if we said, “No”?  What if we said there wasn’t the right of freedom of religion or of speech?  What if we had said that we do not honor the tenants of the Constitution, or in outright rejection made it globally clear that we were a nation where there was such repression that the US resembled a nation ruled by religious zealots and where freedoms were not respected?

The musical The Fantastics, music by Harvey Schmidt, book and lyrics by Tom Jones, a play itself about hate and bigotry capture the essence of confusion about what was really what… in a song called “Plant a Radish” they wonder about the mystery of raising children to act and do as their parents want. In a more macro version, did we sing this same chorus asking ourselves what we thought, what we wanted, and what we thought was the question, but in fact, we missed it?

In Washington you usually don’t challenge some one’s plan but rather their motives, that is, you seek to find out the why a particular individual supporting a law or idea is gaining credence and destroy him or her instead of attacking the issue directly.  Here that old standard seems to have been turned on its head… instead of attacking the motives of those responsible we have attacked the plan itself.  The mosque, whether a single room as part of a larger community center, in many ways a Muslim equivalent of a YMCA, is not the issue as much as its proponents wanted to place the question, a challenge, in front of the American people.

Are we truly as good as we would have ourselves believe?  Did we get played by the media, many of whom went into swirl mode trying to breathe life into an emotional reaction instead of looking at what may lie beneath the noise?

And just in passing, supposing this mosque is approved and construction money can be obtained… does any one really expect the trade unions to willingly join in the building process?  Will steel arrive as planned?  Or other building supplies and  crafts people?  Will the NY Fire Department expeditiously sign off on permits and licenses?  In New York, a city renown for its distinct reactions, does any one think this building has a serious expectation of any completion?

This wasn’t about a building, this was about the American process.  Welcome to another August; September begins in just two more weeks.

The annual survey on incoming freshmen at Beloit College has been released, and as if I wasn’t already feeling older this summer Tuesday morning, this provides ample evidence that the times they are a’changing, again.

The incoming freshmen and women of the class of 2014 have always lived with and been surrounded by technology; they consume games and have been weened on education programs.  They use technology even if they don’t understand how it works.  Enhanced user interfaces have made even the simplest tasks automated.  Emails and cell phones have been constants in their lives.  They are surrounded by information yet they appear to actually consumer very little and perhaps understand even less.  They are satisfied by easy searches and are unaccustomed to challenging the veracity of what they find.   They are schooled in utilizing tools and speak of too kits; they can create sophisticated media, but I am not sure they appreciate its power to do more than entertain.

It seems worthy of longer discussion about how these”kids” are truly different, partly because of technology, partly because of upbringing and education.  Suffice it to say, what they find interesting, important and meaningful as well as how they rely on technology, sometimes in lieu of real experience, will continue to send shock waves throughout the media world.

Excerpts from a story filed by Dinesh Ramde, Associated Press Writer

“MILWAUKEE – For students entering college this fall, e-mail is too slow, phones have never had cords and the computers they played with as kids are now in museums.

The Class of 2014 thinks of Clint Eastwood more as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry urging punks to “go ahead, make my day.” Few incoming freshmen know how to write in cursive or have ever worn a wristwatch.

These are among the 75 items on this year’s Beloit College Mindset List. The compilation, released Tuesday, is assembled each year by two officials at this private school of about 1,400 students in Beloit, Wis.

…Remember when Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Dan Quayle or Rodney King were in the news? These kids don’t.

Ever worry about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.? During these students’ lives, Russians and Americans have always been living together in outer space.

… Another Mindset List item reflects a possible shift in Hollywood attitudes. Item No. 12 notes: “Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.”

A number of incoming freshmen  said they partially agreed with the item, noting they were familiar with Eastwood’s work as an actor even if they hadn’t seen his films.

…Jessica Peck, a 17-year-old from Portland, Ore., disagreed with two items on the list — one that says few students know how to write in cursive, and another that suggests this generation seldom if ever uses snail mail.

“Snail mail’s kind of fun. When I have time I like writing letters to friends and family,” she said. “It’s just a bit more personal. And yes, I write in cursive.”

Peck did agree with the item pointing out that most teens have never used telephones with cords.

“Yes, I’ve used them but only at my grandparents’ house,” she said.”

And once we thought getting a telephone call was a big deal…

Older audiences for network newscasts may signal the death of the evening news – oh wait, maybe this obituary is already past due for newscasts that cost too much to produce for too little profit for too small an audience.  That is a trifecta representing the end of news as we know it.

Audiences are aging and networks have largely failed to capture the attention or loyalty of the younger Gen X, Gen Y, Millenials, Gen R and other audiences.  As the network news audience ages the doom and gloom around those once proud organizations becomes more intense.

I’ve heard an internal number at ABC News shows the average World News Tonight audience is 61.3 years old.  Public numbers are not as venerable.  At that increasing age medical-pharmaceutical and a few other advertisers are about the only ones who will find this audience at all desirable.

It foretells the end of the evening news as we know it today. Is that a bad thing? Is this just another evolutionary step? In the cafeteria era of news, will the end even be noticed?

From TVNewser, “Report: Broadcast TV Aging Faster than the Population.

Broadcast television viewers are getting older at a faster rate than the general population, according to a new report from analyst Steve Sternberg.
The report does not mean that literally, of course, but rather the median age of network TV viewers continues to rise every year, outpacing the general public.

The median age for CBS last season as 55, with ABC at 51 and NBC 49. Fox, which does not have a network news division, was the youngest of the big four at 44 years old.

So what does it mean for broadcast TV news?

For network news divisions, the aging is troubling, but unlikely to affect their economics in the short term. With the proliferation of cable news outlets, broadcasters have already been hit hard, and seen their audiences erode over the last few years…
As a result CBS News and ABC News, which do not have cable networks to prop them up, have been through a series of devastating layoffs and cutbacks.

Because news shows typically sell ads targeting viewers 25-54 years old, it gives them more room to maneuver as the networks continue to age upward. Only CBS has a median age above the key demo.

Longer-term however, it is a troubling prospect. The entertainment programming typically drives most of the profits at the broadcasters, and as they age up and the audiences decline, the profits will get smaller.

Smaller profits means that the network will look for more ways to cut back. Those cutbacks could end up coming from the news divisions, with its already small margins.”

This is a job ad – so cutesy, so precious, trying too hard to be avant-garde, TMZ meets real world news.  What happens when competence is no longer a job requirement but  the look, feel and hipness are the primary criteria?  Will these news people know how to write a story or report a crisis?  Would anyone in business, government, law or authority take them seriously?  Is the ability to listen to other people’s podcasts and utilize apps sufficient; what about creating original content?

I’ve edited out the name of the company.  I want to thank “TI” for sharing this.   What else is there to say?

PRODUCER/EDITORS

The TV revolution is upon us  and the new ____ Company is leading the resistance. We’re recruiting a solid team of anti-establishment producer/editors, “preditors”, to collaborate on a groundbreaking morning news/infotainment format unlike anything ever attempted on local TV. Don’t sell us on your solid newsroom experience. We don’t care. Or your exclusive, breaking news coverage. We’ll pass. Or your excellence at writing readable copy for plastic anchorpeople. Not interested.

Sell us on this:

-Your fiery passion to help re-invent the ‘80’s rooted, focus-grouped, yuppie anchors and a news desk, super Doppler ultra weather style

-Your personal relationship with the internet, blogs, video-sharing, iPads, Droids, Blackberries, Blueteeth, Facebook & Twitter, and all things Modern Culture

-You’re in sync with the pulse of the streets, not the PC, Capital “J” journalism world

-You live and breathe content

-You know the difference between “buzzworthy”and “B.S.”

-You know your way around Final Cut Pro and easily embrace new production technologies

-Your greatest communication tool is a keyboard, your writing is “bleeding edge”, and you realize that when it comes to the written word, less is more

-You can survive and prosper in a modern, high brilliance standards “rock ‘n’ roll” culture where your supervisors are fearless and your peers are A-game “imaginators” with the highest of execution standards

-You’re an earbud wearing, app downloading, rss reading, podcast playing, text messaging, flip-flop wearing professional of any age or sex, with a real-world education, interests that are anything but mainstream, and the ability to translate your bent outlook onto the TV screen

-You “Get It”.

The creatively challenged, old-school TV News types and anyone lost in the ‘80’s should move on to the next “help wanted” ad. If this excites you, talk to us, shoot us your resume, your POV on TV News, links to your FCP editing and writing samples (whether they aired or not) and anything else you think might help sell you as a key member of this exclusive team.

Let’s begin with a disclosure.  I have told both lies of convenience and whoppers.  So perhaps a column on lying is an ambitious undertaking for me, nonetheless…

This week I flew from Dallas to San Francisco on Skywest (a partner of United Airlines).  The flight was more than four hours late due to a mechanical problem and that delay would force me to miss the last airporter bus to my final destination.  The airline’s agent in Dallas was sympathetic, and since the delay was caused by the airline he offered me a free taxi or shuttle ride home.  I asked how I could prove his offer when I arrived in San Francisco, and he proceeded to ostensibly type his promise into my passenger record.  He seemed sincere, genuine and I watched him type for a few moments.  When done he smiled and said, it was “all in the record”.

When I landed I asked the gate agent for the promised voucher.  She pulled up my ticket record, and I asked if she would print it for me.  She quickly left for her supervisor still in the jet way.  “KH” returned, looked at the computer and proceeded to type for more than a minute.  Then he too smiled but said, “it says no amenities offered in San Francisco.”  He spoke with no hesitation.  He added with a grin (perhaps of guile), “would I like to see the record?”

“Hardly necessary,” I replied.

So who lied?  One of these employees did lie.  Was it the helpful gentleman in Dallas who appeared to be sincere in appreciating my difficulty?  Or the harried employee in San Francisco, who at 2a appeared more interested in saving the airline any further expense or encumbrance as well as in sending me away.  I felt rage – not for the voucher, but for the lie.

Why’s this a media column?  Because so many readers, listeners, viewers feel the same helpless rage when consuming their media.  There are people who absolutely rage at talk radio and TV personalities who espouse views that are contradictory to everything they hold dear.  They believe these individuals are lying, or at least misrepresenting the facts.  Just hearing the news and information shaped in a way counter or contrary to their beliefs is enough to send them into fits of anger.

Lying or misrepresentations or bending facts to suit our particular needs of the moment are now so easy, and you just can’t quite catch the liar.  You believe, even know, you are being lied to, but you don’t always know who is responsible; you can’t catch them, you can’t make them apologize, and that’s where the anger begins and boils.

Skywest’s behavior was despicable.  But they got away with lying.  With impunity.

And by extension, is this also why so many news consumers stifle their anger and turn away from media, frustrated by what they hear and how they think it is mauled by truth-benders?  It isn’t just that stories are not credible as much as the misrepresentations send us into rage?  The rage is borne of disbelief, incredulity, as well as the sense that some one in the food chain has intentionally altered the facts and that leaves us helpless.

Fox Nation, another expansion of the powerful FOX brand, promotes itself as a site where all opinions are welcome, although the predominant voices seem to be believers in a conservative political philosophy punctuated by anti-administration diatribe, fear mongering and occasional bigotry.   This is social media, and one does not have to listen long to Fox Radio to hear promotions for this affinity site — listen to us and if you believe in what you’re hearing, you’ll want to join the discussion at Fox Nation.

But the question is when does fair and balanced news reporting become the bulwark of a political affinity group?  It’s not whether this is good, or ethical under some sort of academic standard alone, but is the audience being served (happily) or misused?

It is an honest question for debate for it is changing the way people in this country see, listen, hear and relate to their news. Not so many years ago the major networks were all pretty much the same – bland and apolitical. Owners under the rules of the FCC stuck to rules governing fairness, standards and practices. That’s long over.

Do audiences appreciate this new symbiotic relationship between news and bias, news and punditry and opinion? Is this a natural growth progression of a huge network’s business covering the news, and how is it possible that this does not cross journalist lines of independence when its social media component strives to become a politically charged entity, something that actively promotes further national division and societal discord?

Just as the cablers seem to be in a race to carve out their space along the political spectrum, FOX representing talk-radio-right and MSNBC securing its place as talk-radio-left, there seems to be a new phenomenon of converting audiences into political armies.  Fox Radio is now heard soliciting its listeners to join the “Fox Nation” in order to be a more effective force for change.

What’s different is the blurred line between reporting the news, especially if it purports regularly and routinely to be the epitome of fair and balanced as its brand, but then uses those same broadcasts to appeal directly and solely to a specific political leaning.  It seems expectable that those who register will be parsed and shared with campaigns and PACs, and there are few, if any, limits to how those individuals will be culled and contacted in the environment of social media.

Is there a line and has it been crossed?  Should a national news voice use its power to effect political change in the contemporary environment, and if so, does it need to be more clearly disclosed?  Or is it obvious?

Is it too much for a program host to attend a political rally? Or tell listeners specifically where a rally is planned? Sean Hannity has done both even encouraging his audience to attend if they share his political beliefs.  But is his show even news or is it a talk show about contemporary events? And if it is just that, then he is not subject to the long-established rules guiding journalists and journalism?

There are many who believe FOX News presenters share a conservative bias.  There are even sites which are hyper-critical of Fox News, notably Media Matters which catalogues what it perceives to be daily examples of misreporting and misinformation. In fairness to Fox News and its president Roger Ailes, FOX does draw a line between its news presenters and talk show personalities.  For instance, on election nights the network’s most prominent show hosts, including Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, are not utilized as anchors but rather as commentators separating fact from opinion.  It may be a thin line, but it is a line that is crossed most notably by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC who is offered to the audiences doing both dispensing news and commentary within the same program.

Fox News self-promotes itself as the “new media” and seeks to differentiate itself from all the other networks, decrying them as “mainstream” and old-fashioned, horribly out of touch with their audiences who purportedly are crying out for better reportage. FOX News is not alone; each night John Stewart and Steven Colbert do much the same – making fun of the traditional models in satire and skits.

FOX News is a brilliant, contemporary business which may understand audiences better than any of its competitors.  It has cast off the traditional model of informing and instead has grasped the higher levels of communication theory, specifically to persuade audiences to think as it does and even, at the highest level, to motivate audiences to think that they had the ideas originally.

There is an open question: when does mixing news reporting with social media cross a line of independence, when does reporting with any bias become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Is it OK for established news casts? What about for an organization without a formal news organization, for instance Google, which is offering corporate customers the opportunity to advertise on programs specifically created about their business and its audience appeal? Is that news? Is that propaganda? And once you start producing custom content for a specific purpose, business or government, when does it end, and how will the audience recognize the difference?  When does currying to an audience go too far?

The issue is – if that happens, then they will cover only news that interests their audience, or that their audience already believes in?  What happens to other  viewpoints and under-served communities? Will those voices be hear or be subjected to ridicule? Is that a danger today with FOX Nation – where it says all opinions are welcomed… but are they?

The question is simply this — other than in paid and disclosed advertising, should the cable airwaves or the public channels be used to actively promote a political party or belief? Does the audience care, should they? Should we care on their behalf? On that last question alone I believe the answer is an absolute Yes!

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